Sam Peckinpah's 1971 controversial "Straw Dogs" is the definition of a polarizing film. Uncompromising in every way, even some ardent Peckinpah fans dislike what many critics have dismissed as a cruel and misogynistic waste of time. Four decades later, writer/director Rod Lurie's remake joins other recent Hollywood exercises in futility such as "The Truth About Charlie" that manage to completely miss the point of the originals in every way, shape, and form. Replacing a perfectly cast Dustin Hoffman with pretty boy James Marsden playing faux nerd (the difference between Marsden here and in X-Men are a change of glasses), Lurie turns a meditation on violence and human nature into a slickly produced revenge film.
2011's "Straw Dogs" is more or less very faithful to Peckinpah's original screenplay, moving David Sumner (Marsden) and his trophy wife Amy (Kate Bosworth) from the English countryside to the deep South. Also worth noting is David's occupation was swapped from nervous mathematician to cocky screenwriter, showing Lurie on some level realized no one would truly buy Marsden as the ineffectual wimp the original story demands him to be. Unlikable from the get go, David's life is a mixture of self-righteousness and broad foreshadowing. If David isn't talking down to the band of stereotypical rednecks from his wife's past, led by Charlie (Alexander Skarsgard), he's working on his script for a film about the Battle of Stalingrad or hanging a giant bear trap over his mantle. To Lurie's credit, his initial characterization of David sets a cliché albeit passable tone that fans of the original could see working toward a twist on the film's original infamous finale. Under real pressure though, Lurie folds sabotaging his own film by removing the original's thematic ambiguity and branding the film as another disposable revenge thriller.
If you've seen the original "Straw Dogs" you know a key sequence involving Amy and Charlie is the source of all the film's controversy and cries of misogyny. Lurie has whitewashed that sequence completely and neuters the film's chance of having any social relevance. This wouldn't be a major problem, if certain actions from Amy didn't make her in hindsight to be an equally detestable character as David. The bottom line is this incarnation of "Straw Dogs" is a hollow, stylish exercise in futility, mining cheap stereotypes of the South for both laughs and shock, sometime in the same breath. James Woods shows up as a sleazy stereotype that is usually handled quite well these days by Walton Goggins, who coincidentally shows up as well, but in what amounts to a thankless cameo. Skarsgard strangely refuses to stoop to broad, ethnic stereotypes and play Charlie as a quiet, brooding psychopath who is eerily calm even when all Hell breaks loose.
Ultimately both films leave me feeling unsettled, but for entirely different reasons with Peckinpah's version remaining an unsettling masterpiece that still raises some tough moral questions 40 years later. Lurie's leaves a dirty feeling for all the wrong reasons, degenerating into an ultraviolent and sadistic mess that is filmed like a sequence from a modern slasher film. It is pure mediocrity in its most refined form and is devoid of any shred of humanity. An objectively passable but emotionally bankrupt disaster and one of the years most disappointing films.
The 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is plagued by an unnecessary hot look regardless of the location in the film. Detail is above average with a hint of DNR in some select scenes. Contrast is less than desirable making the final siege sequence all the more difficult to follow.
The Dolby Digital English 5.1 audio track is free of distortion and sports a solid, balanced mix. Surrounds are used most effectively in the hunting sequence halfway through the film and the action packed finale, giving enough of a disorienting feeling to be worth mentioning. English descriptive audio, French, Spanish, and Thai 5.1 tracks are also included. English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Thai, Chinese and Korean subtitles are included.
Writer/director Lurie sits down for a feature length commentary that is actually insightful and allows Lurie to explain his own controversial decisions. Four semi-insightful, but largely promotional featurettes are included: "Courting Controversy: Remaking a Classic," "The Dynamics of Power: Cast," "Inside the Siege: Stunts," and "Creating the Sumner House: Production Design" are also included.
Fans of the original will despise Rod Lurie's "Straw Dogs" with every fiber of their being, but the unfamiliar will likely find it to be an adequate time waster. It's a film that comes and goes rather quickly and thankfully won't be remembered as nothing more than a footnote in film history. If anything, this wasteful remake strengthens the 1971 Peckinpah classic all the more. Rent It.